The unique collection of research universities, biotech and pharmaceutical firms, and science and engineering startups linked by the MBTA Red Line is an economic powerhouse that is going to pull Massachusetts through the current financial crisis and help drive the nation toward recovery, Harvard President Drew Faust told those attending the opening of a new Venture Development Center at the University of Massachusetts, (UMass) Boston, last Friday (May 1).

While Harvard and its fellow institutions are having to make painful adjustments to new economic realities, Faust said that “it is not by accident that we in Boston, and in Massachusetts, are on sounder economic ground than much of the rest of the nation. As I have noted on previous occasions, Harvard is the second-largest private employer in the Boston area, but we are only a part of a massive higher education sector that is the envy of the world.

“Statewide, private higher education employs more than double the entire biotechnology sector in Massachusetts,” Faust continued in her keynote address. “There are 90,000 employees in the Boston metropolitan area employed at private colleges and universities. Add to that the faculty, researchers, and staff at UMass and other public colleges in our state, and the sector totals 100,000. That represents more employees than all of this region’s computer hardware, software, and services business, or this region’s banking, securities, and investment industries combined.”

Faust told the attendees — including Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, UMass President Jack Wilson, and UMass Boston Chancellor Keith Motley — that “one of the most significant things about our research universities is that they are engines that also produce the fuel — the scientists, physicians, and engineers, the thinkers and ideas that spur the new products, new jobs, and new companies that will help renew our economy and power the nation’s recovery. Mayor Menino understands this, and his advocacy, along with that of leaders on Beacon Hill, has helped ensure that Boston and Massachusetts will continue to be the world’s leading idea factory, even during these challenging times.”

Faust sustained applause when she said, “The Red Line, which I rode here this morning, is far more than a subway line, far more than a transportation artery — it is a highly useful reminder of where we have been, and where we are, and where we can go … if we commit to working together to get there.

“The Red Line,” said Faust, “is not just transportation. It connects programs; it connects institutions; and, most importantly, it connects people, people who are the most efficient translators of ideas, innovation, and knowledge; it provides us with a vision of what our community was, … what it is, … and what it can become. But this unassuming transit line is also a ruby necklace, whose jewels include — to name a few — Tufts, Harvard, Novartis, Amgen, MIT, the Broad Institute, the Whitehead Institute, Massachusetts General Hospital, the Federal Reserve Bank, and, of course, the University of Massachusetts, Boston, and the Venture Development Center whose creation we celebrate today.”

After offering a tour of the collaborations and new ventures along the Red Line, Faust said that “If our institutions are going to continue to benefit mankind, we need to continually develop the types of collaborations we celebrate today. As one travels the Red Line, it becomes obvious that our greatest strength really lies in sharing with one another the collaborations that create the virtual idea factory I mentioned earlier. We share our findings broadly in order that others can build on our work … and we translate the products of these efforts so that the public can benefit.

“Virtually everything the government is struggling to do to move our nation forward ultimately depends upon science, technology, and education — upon discovery, innovation, and collaboration. Advancing medical science, developing sources of renewable green energy, preparing our fellow citizens for the next wave of jobs — all require that we respond to the challenges we face today.

“This is a crucial moment in the long history of our nation,” she said. “We are all being called to make sacrifices, and we are all being called upon to work together. This is our challenge: We must decide if we are going to move forward together, or if we are going to fall behind. We must heed the lessons about the power of collaboration and impact so evident along the path of the Red Line and commit to forging and maintaining the connectors that will exponentially multiply the value of our institutions to our cities, our state, and our nation.”

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